First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Jessica Willis: We are finding a lot to be grateful for in between the chaos, fear, and uncertainty that COVID-19 has brought in its wake. In fact, my 8 and 11-year-olds both just rocked their (virtual) piano recitals! Of course, the changes haven’t been easy, but our children are teaching us lots about resilience and gratitude.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Pocketnest.
Jessica Willis: No startup begins without a passionate back-story, and Pocketnest is no exception. With 20 years of experience in the wealth management industry as a certified financial planner and certified private wealth advisor, my friends were constantly asking for “non-professional” advice. It turns out, my friends (of average wealth) wanted to know how to navigate the same things as my wealthy clients. So, naturally, I took them through that same process.
But, the conversations looked a bit different. My tech-first, DIY-er friends of the next generation can’t quite get on board with the concept of hiring a traditional advisor—it’s too timely, too costly, and, frankly, not terribly interesting. And, for those of my 30- and 40-something friends who turned to financial institutions for help, they were being turned away for not reaching the advisors’ minimum of $1 million in assets.
As an advisor, I know these financial institutions are not being disingenuous. The truth is, they’d love to serve this next-gen! But, the industry is simply not set up to serve the masses with their traditional—and very time-consuming—approach to comprehensive financial planning.
As these conversations continued, and as the scenarios remained the same, a lightbulb went off. I knew that a tidal wave of 30- and 40-somethings were about to flood the market ($46 million in assets by the end of this year, in fact!)—but no financial institution was perched to help them.
I realized that we could create technology that would both provide a “nextgen experience of financial planning” to my peers while enriching their relationships with their financial institutions. Add a few more brainstorms (maybe an IPA or two!) and many conversations with folks in the field…and Pocketnest was born. You see, advisers, banks, credit unions, benefit plan providers, financial wellness experts, and the like can use Pocketnest to scale their practices! By deepening their relationship with younger clients, we’re helping them to get to richer, more actionable conversations sooner. Meanwhile, financial wellness is growing among the masses.
How does your company innovate?
Jessica Willis: Each member of the Pocketnest team—not just the founder (!)—is an innovator at heart. We follow several “rules of engagement”:
1) We always look at a problem from multiple perspectives. There’s never one answer to one problem!
2) We’re unafraid to be unconventional. As a team, we work together to tackle problems with solutions that may be scrappy, unoriginal, and unique.
3) We recognize there are no experts in all things. We appreciate, respect, and highlight each other’s different perspectives, backgrounds, intuition, and brains.
4) We’re nimble. We’re quick to pivot when one “solution” doesn’t quite work and are open to new ideas.
5) We listen! We recognize that each of us has a place at the table, where egos disappear, and nobody needs to be the smartest person in the room.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Jessica Willis: In the face of the financial insecurity that COVID-19 has brought to the world, Pocketnest is rising to the occasion to bring financial wellness to the masses. While Pocketnest was primed to bring people financial education and health before the pandemic, we’ve now realized that we were built for this very situation. First, you have masses of people who are facing new financial threats—layoffs, salary reductions, increased spending on childcare/child education, etc.—and have never needed financial support more. With Pocketnest being free to users, we’re here to be their champion to help them rise out of financial distress.
Next, you have the financial institutions that are desperately trying to serve their members, customers, and clients. But, without foot traffic in the branches and offices, they’re struggling to make connections. Now, more than ever, financial institutions must make the leap to more efficient technology. Pocketnest also exists to be the financial institutions’ champion, bringing them closer (metaphorically speaking, of course) to their customers. Because of our strong value proposition during this trying time, investors are paying attention, and their interest is certainly piqued.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Jessica Willis: Like nearly every business on the planet, the strange and scary circumstances of COVID-19 have certainly forced us to make difficult decisions. We’ve tightened our expenses, though we haven’t had to lay off any employees or shorten our runway. Like our children who are trying to navigate this new concept of virtual learning, or the people trying to learn how to celebrate holidays and birthdays alone, or the small business owners who have had to rethink their business model completely—we are learning to be resilient, reliant on our friends, families, customers, and colleagues; and grateful for what we do have.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Pocketnest in the future?
Jessica Willis: Our incredible team and transparent culture is what quells our fears in the face of uncertainty. Sure, every startup faces question marks, but add a pandemic to that equation, and things can get dicey—fast. When we’re confronted with obstacles, we follow our entrepreneurial and innovative hearts, knowing that we just need to keep putting one foot in front of the other—and, sometimes, that next step is in a different place than we initially thought it’d be. But, nevertheless, we’re always moving forward.
Matt McCall from Pritzker Group wrote this incredible article called “The Two Arrows.” I think every startup founder should read this. McCall shares that the nature of a startup implies that there will always be stress and anxiety. Instead of getting swallowed by fear, he says to use the two arrow method: allow the stress and anxiety to come in, sit with it, take a breath, and then move forward. Our team follows this practice, as we know we can’t stop or protect ourselves from the pain of stress and anxiety; but, the faster we can acknowledge and deal with it, the more stable and secure we can be as a team.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Jessica Willis: Fintech is a crowded space, yet, we know our competition and have yet to find a financial planning tool that is both comprehensive and digital, and therefore scalable. Our competition falls into two categories. The first is fintech firms like robot advisors; they only address one or two themes of personal finance while missing the greater opportunity for a proactive, comprehensive financial life planning experience. The second is traditional financial companies; some of these attempt to be comprehensive, but on average, only address four financial planning themes and lack a mobile-first, affordable financial planning experience. Pocketnest is the platform that merges the best of these two worlds, resulting in the only digital financial planning resource that is cost-effective, efficient, and comprehensive.
Your final thoughts?
Jessica Willis: We believe financial wellness should be accessible to all people, not just the wealthy or self-proclaimed finance nerds. We also believe that financial institutions are critical to people’s financial education and health. We marry these two concepts, bringing people closer to their financial institutions to achieve holistic financial wellness.
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